Lübeck's Dance of Death

The Monk and the Knight

De monnick

O Deus, wo wol que-
me ick denne to mathe,
Mochte ick komen to
so grotem stathe.
Myn kleyne arbeyt,
waken, lesen unde syngen,
Konde my neynerleye-
wysz dar henne bringen,
Were Cristus vor my so
bitterlik nicht gestorven,
Dar myt he my dit al
heft vorworven.


De rytter

Help, ridder sunte Jurgen,
my is gantz bange.
Tavende sath ik alto
By deme konnynge,
myneme gnedigen heren.
Dath dede ick öm tho
groten eren.
Nu vole ick an my den
bitteren doet.
O God, help my yo nu
in desser noet.

The knight
Death with spade

De dot to dem monnike

Broder monnyck, van
wat orden dattu byst,
Dyn orde is gemaket
ane argelyst
Van dem hilgen vaderen
eyn recht reformacien.
Wo wol du hefst ghe-
leden etlyke temptacien,
Vor dyn horsam, casti-
gynge unde ander arbeyt
Wert God dy geven de
ewygen salicheyt.

Death riding a lion

De dot to dem rydder

Her rytter, ick do dy
hastich to wetten,
Treth an, ick wyl dy
nicht vorgetten,
Volge my nu in den
Dyn stath, werltlyke
ere, heel unde gantz,
Nympt nu eyn ende
ane alle schympen.
De wegge is nu up
went an den tympen.

N.B.: The book should be read from right to left: First Death's admonition, then the answer of the dying person. The translation below is presented in the proper (logical) sequence. The Low German text in the "book" above has been modernized to make it more readable. Click here to read the original text.

Death to the monk

Brother Monk - from what order you may be -
your order is founded without treachery
by the holy fathers - a real reformed order.
Although you have suffered many temptations -
for your obedience, discipline and other works
God will give you the eternal salvation.

Death to the knight

Mr. Knight - I will quickly tell you.(2)
Fall in - I will not forget you.
Follow me now in the dance of death.
Your rank, worldly honour, wholly and fully,
now comes to an end without any jest.
The bread is now up until the tip.

The monk

O Deus, how well could I then come at the right moment?(1)
Might I come to such great station?
My little work, watching, reading and singing
could in now way bring me to that
had Christ not died so bitterly for me,
by means of which he has earned it all for me.

The knight

Help - knight St. George - I'm wholly afraid.
In the evening I sat for a long time
by the king - my gracious lord.
This I did [to] him to [my] great honour.
Now I feel the bitter Death by me.
Oh God - help me now in this distress.

Death tells the knight that "the bread is up". This nonsense is yet another sign that Dodendantz is an extract of Des dodes dantz. The bread is not up - it has been eaten up.

A "Wegge" is a small wheat bread with pointed tip like a wedge (hence the name). In Des dodes dantz Death tells the young nobleman that the bread has been eaten up - only the tip is left. Death then kindly explains that the all-but-eaten bread is a metaphor for the nobleman's all-but-spent life:

Junkher, du môst mede sunder jennigerhande schimpen,
De wegge is upgegetten wente an den timpen.
Dat schaltu in solker wise vorstân:
Dîn levent heft einen ende unde is vorgân.

Nobleman you must go along without any kind of jest.
The bread is eaten up - until the tip.
This you shall understand in such way:
Your life has an end and is gone.

In northern Germany there's still a tradition of celebrating a child's birth by bringing a "Wegge" to the house with the name of the child. Maybe this makes the Wegge an obvious metaphor for life?

Footnotes: (1) (2)

This sentence is extremely difficult:

queme is the conjunctive mood of "komen" (= to come).
mathe is related to English "mete" and "measure" - and "komen to mathe" is one of those expressions that can mean anything: "come at the right moment", "come to assistance", "come to an agreement", "come while something is taking place" etc., etc. To complicate matters further it is often used ironically so that it means "get hurt".

Tell you...: The literal meaning af "do gy to wetten" is "do you to know". Compare with "Reynke de Vos::

He sprack, eft ik dar vunde to eten,
Dat scholde ik eme don to wetten.
(He said - if I found [something] there to eat
I should let him know.)
(lines 5893-4)